Somali officials are keeping quiet about what caused an explosion on board an Airbus A321 shortly after the plane left the Mogadishu's international airport this week, but US investigators say a bomb was likely the cause of the incident.
The blast occurred aboard Daallo Airlines Flight D3159 shortly after takeoff en route to Djibouti on Tuesday. The pilot was able to land safely, and 74 passengers and crew members were evacuated from the aircraft. At least two people were hospitalized after sustaining injuries, and one man was killed. His body was found outside of Mogadishu, and local authorities suspect he was sucked out through the hole in the fuselage created by the explosion.
"He dropped when the explosion occurred in the plane," a police officer said about the 55-year-old man, whose body was being transported to Mogadishu.
A post the Daallo Airlines website, which did not mention a blast, said the "incident" happened 15 minutes into the flight.
"Pilots managed to land the aircraft back [in] Mogadishu Airport safely and without any further incident. All passengers, except one, disembarked safely," it said. The airline said it was investigating the cause of the missing passenger.
"The investigation goes on," Somali civil aviation director Abdiwahid Omar said.
US government sources, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said a bomb was probably to blame for the incident, but they stressed there was no hard evidence to justify this conclusion. Somali officials have only said the investigation is still underway.
The officials also acknowledged that no groups have taken responsibility for the explosion. The Somali militant group al Shabaab is active in the area, but typically claims responsibility when it commits violent acts. The group has carried out regular attacks on officials, government offices, and civilian sites during its insurgency.
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Reports from witnesses who were on the plane are starting to emerge. Awale Kullane, the UN's deputy ambassador in Somalia, described what he saw on Facebook, writing that he "heard a loud noise and couldn't see anything but smoke for a few seconds."
Vladimir Vodopivec, the plane's 64-year-old pilot, told the Associated Press that there was a loud bang. He said the cabin lost pressure, but that the engines, hydraulics, and other functions kept working, which allowed him to land safely. Some smoke made its way into the cabin, according to Vodopivec, but was mostly concentrated at the rear of the aircraft.
"I think it was a bomb," the Serbian pilot told Blic, a Belgrade-based media outlet. "Luckily, the flight controls were not damaged so I could return and land at the airport. Something like this has never happened in my flight career. We lost pressure in the cabin. Thank God it ended well."
Other experts weighing in on the issue seem to favor the explosive device theory.
"We don't know a lot, but certainly it looks like a device," John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board, told the Guardian.
'We lost pressure in the cabin. Thank God it ended well.'
Images circulating on social media following the incident showed the plane with a gaping hole in the fuselage over one wing. A source familiar with the investigation told Reuters flammable objects are not usually put in that place in an aircraft.
Other reports discussed the possibility of an oxygen tank playing a role in the explosion, but safety experts say such bottles usually catch fire rather than explode. Photographs did not show significant damage to overhead panels, where such bottles are usually kept.
Airline accidents have occurred occasionally in Somalia, including a Cairo-bound Airbus 300 that crashed outside Mogadishu in October. There were no deaths or injuries reported in that incident, which involved a Tristar Air flight.
Al Shabaab often targets foreign vehicles and convoys traveling along the road between Mogadishu and the international airport, which is also near the United Nations compound. The Somali Islamist militant group has been active so far in 2016. In January, five gunmen from the group attacked a popular beachfront restaurant, killing 17 people. The fighters also set off two car bombs nearby.
The beach violence came just days after al Shabaab carried out an assault on a Kenyan military base, reportedly killing at least 100 soldiers and kidnapping others. The Kenyan soldiers make up a large contingent of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM. In both instances, the group claimed responsibility for the violence.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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